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Absent in San Rafael
by Don Schwartz
Filmmaker Justin Hunt (left) with Metallica frontman James Hetfield and his wife, Francesca. photo: B. Chrisman
Arizona filmmaker Justin Hunt and Metallica frontman James Hetfield are walking down Fourth Street, in San Rafael, on their way to The Rafael Film Center, a 3-screen art house in California’s Marin County. The two men regard a long line of movie-goers eagerly waiting to enter and see Hunt’s latest documentary, “Absent” (
), a painful, disturbing, yet inspiring examination of fatherlessness. Above the crowd the two spy the marquee with the following large black letters: “Absent with Justin Hunt and James Hetfield.” Hetfield, a Bay Area resident, pulls out his cell phone camera and shoots the marquee. A moment almost too poignant for Justin Hunt to put into words, but I’ll do it. The fan’s hero has been touched and moved by the fan’s work.
The sold-out theater is packed with Hunt’s friends and family as well as Metallica fans. The audience is treated to Hunt’s film which features authorities speaking about the tragic impact of fatherlessness, alternating with people who have been raised without a father, or raised by an abusive father, alternating in turn with informative text expressing in statistical terms this adverse impact. James Hetfield is one of those people talking in the film. With utter candor Hetfield relates the harrowing, tragic story of his upbringing in a fatherless family, how that experience affected his personal life and sparked his music, passionate songs that found the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions young people around the world.
The film’s message is clear. Almost all of us have been wounded in one way or another by fatherlessness, or by an abusive father. That wound adversely impacts our lives. That wound can be healed. The film’s look and sound are professional, the spoken words are easy to hear and understand, and the music is particularly beautiful for a self-financed documentary. In an unusual move, Hunt produced and sells the film’s soundtrack which also features sound bytes from the film. The lights come up; Hunt and Hetfield handle the Q&A, followed by some social time together. A moment in time for Justin Hunt, an initiation, a stepping stone, and the strengthening of many bonds—including those with the San Francisco Bay Area.
Justin Hunt seems to ready for his closeup. photo: J. Hudson
Hunt’s journey to this personal triumph was not as circuitous as most roads to self-fulfillment are. Born in Grand Junction, Colorado, Hunt has lived his life in the American west. His father was a jockey, his mother was a racehorse trainer, and his childhood, of necessity, nomadic. Up until high school Hunt never lived in any one place longer than a few weeks to a few months. There was a home base, Boone, Colorado, just outside of Pueblo, which he touched from time to time.
Hunt began to settle down around high school time, in Bloomfield, New Mexico. His story-telling career began with writing for his high school paper. As a senior, Hunt received the United States Journalism Association’s award for best high school newspaper story in the nation. He continued journalistic writing at his community college, and quickly soured on print when his first article was shortened. He jumped right to broadcast journalism; interning at a television station, he was hooked after his first story. Justin Hunt became the weekend news anchor for an NBC affiliate at the young age of 18, handling all aspects of producing stories—shooting, writing, editing, and broadcasting. He also played college football as a starter. As reflected in his films, he can handle rough stuff.
After receiving his degree in communications, Hunt became the news director at a Roswell, New Mexico television station. During four years of reporting, Hunt was well lauded—as large market news reporter of the year three times for the state of New Mexico, as well as receiving seven local awards during his last year. Completing four years as a broadcast journalist and producer, Hunt started his own business, Time & Tide Productions, producing private and corporate videos.
A Christian man dedicated to self-improvement, he was taking a series of Christian men retreats. Regarding one of them, Hunt comments, “We began a conversation about ‘are we doing what we’re called to do?’ One participant said ‘I think you can really change the way people think by the way you tell your stories.’ At that moment I started thinking that I want to do something bigger than these little jobs I’d been doing, and that’s when the topic of meth came to mind because I had done a little piece called “The Meth Monster,” and I didn’t get to explore that as much as I wanted to. I had no idea about what’s going to happen, no idea about film festivals, about distribution, I just wanted to tell the story and see what happens.” And so “American Meth” (
) was conceived and quickly gestated. Narrated by Val Kilmer, the film is an exploration of the methamphetamine epidemic including paths of escape from the addiction’s abyss. This June, Hunt will receive the National Media Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and College of Problems of Drug Dependence for his work on “American Meth”.
With the instant success of “American Meth”, Hunt’s ability to tell cinematic stories in feature form was immediately established. On his way home from an apparently unfruitful fly fishing trip to Val Kilmer’s ranch in Pecos, New Mexico, Hunt was exploring possible topics for his next project with friend and retreat leader Mark Garcia. Out of this conversation, as well as many previous retreats and life experiences, emerged the subject of fatherlessness. As he is want to do, Hunt quickly and effectively tackled the project. High school friend and now San Francisco soprano Tiffany Cromartie helped with the connection to Hetfield as well as to the Rafael Film Center. College friend and San Francisco photographer Ben Chrisman (
) took stills at the Hetfield interview as well as the Rafael Center screening.
Justin Hunt is back home now, adding to the more than 500 video jobs he’s already produced, thinking about his next documentary, thinking, as well, about the narrative features he wants to direct. He has three screenplays under his belt one of which was optioned. Coming soon to a theater near you ….
Posted on Mar 26, 2011 - 02:12 PM